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"Public interest Litigation", in simple words, means, litigation filed in a court of law, for the protection of "Public Interest", such as pollution, Terrorism, Road safety, constructional hazards etc.

PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION is not defined in any statute or in any act. It has been interpreted by judges to consider the intent of public at large. Although, the main and only focus of such litigation is only "Public Interest" there are various areas where a PUBLIC INTEREST LITIGATION can be filed.

Public Interest Litigation, in Indian law, means litigation for the protection of public interest. It is litigation introduced in a court of law, not by the aggrieved party but by the court itself or by any other private party. It is not necessary, for the exercise of the court's jurisdiction, that the person who is the victim of the violation of his or her right should personally approach the court. Public Interest Litigation is the power given to the public by courts through judicial activism.

Such cases may occur when the victim does not have the necessary resources to commence litigation or his freedom to move court has been suppressed or encroached upon. The court can itself take cognizance of the matter and precede suo motu or cases can commence on the petition of any public-spirited individual.


IN BLACK'S LAW DICTIONARY : "Public Interest Litigation means a legal action initiated in a court of law for the enforcement of public interest or general interest in which the public or class of the community have pecuniary interest or some interest by which their legal rights or liabilities are affected."
Public Interest Litigation's explicit purpose is to alienate the suffering off all those who have borne the brunt of insensitive treatment at the hands of fellow human being. Transparency in public life & fair judicial action are the right answer to check increasing menace of violation of legal rights. Traditional rule was that the right to move the Supreme Court is only available to those whose fundamental rights are infringed.

But this traditional rule was considerably relaxed by the Supreme Court in its recent rulings:

Peoples Union for Democratic Rights v. Union of India (A.I.R.. 1982, S C 1473). The court now permits Public Interest Litigation or Social Interest Litigation at the instance of “Public spirited citizens" for the enforcement of constitutional & legal rights of any person or group of persons who because of their socially or economically disadvantaged position are unable to approach court for relief. Public interest litigation is a part of the process of participate justice and standing in civil litigation of that pattern must have liberal reception at the judicial door steps.

In the Judges Transfer Case - AIR 1982, SC 149: Court held Public Interest Litigation can be filed by any member of public having sufficient interest for public injury arising from violation of legal rights so as to get judicial redress. This is absolutely necessary for maintaining Rule of law and accelerating the balance between law and justice.
It is a settled law that when a person approaches the court of equity in exercise of extraordinary jurisdiction, he should approach the court not only with clean hands but with clean mind, heart and with clean objectives.

Shiram Food & Fertilizer case AIR (1986) 2 SCC 176 SC through Public Interest Litigation directed the Co. Manufacturing hazardous & lethal chemical and gases posing danger to life and health of workmen & to take all necessary safety measures before re-opening the plant.

In the case of M.C Mehta V. Union of India (1988) 1 SCC 471 - In Public Interest Litigation brought against Ganga water pollution so as to prevent any further pollution of Ganga water. Supreme court held that petitioner although not a riparian owner is entitled to move the court for the enforcement of statutory provisions, as he is the person interested in protecting the lives of the people who make use of Ganga water.

Parmanand Katara V. Union of India - AIR 1989, SC 2039 :- Supreme Court held in the Public Interest Litigation filed by a human right activist fighting for general public interest that it is a paramount obligation of every member of medical profession to give medical aid to every injured citizen as soon as possible without waiting for any procedural formalities.

Council For Environment Legal Action V. Union Of India - (1996)5 SCC 281: Public Interest Litigation filed by registered voluntary organisation regarding economic degradation in coastal area. Supreme Court issued appropriate orders and directions for enforcing the laws to protect ecology.

A report entitled "Treat Prisoners Equally HC" published in THE TRIBUNE, Aug 23 Punjab & Haryana High Court quashed the provisions of jail manual dividing prisoners into A , B & C classes after holding that there cannot be any classification of convicts on the basis of their social status, education or habit of living .This is a remarkable ruling given by High Court by declaring 576-A paragraph of the manual to be " Unconstitutional".

State V. Union Of India - AIR 1996 Cal 181 at 218: Public Interest Litigation is a strategic arm of the legal aid movement which intended to bring justice. Rule of Law does not mean that the Protection of the law must be available only to a fortunate few or that the law should be allowed to be abused and misused by the vested interest. In a recent ruling of Supreme Court on " GROWTH OF SLUMS" in Delhi through Public Interest Litigation initiated by lawyers Mr. B.L. Wadhera & Mr. Almitra Patel Court held that large area of public land is covered by the people living in slum area . Departments despite being giving a dig on the slum clearance, it has been found that more and more slums are coming into existence. Instead of "Slum Clearance", there is "Slum Creation" in Delhi. As slums tended to increase; the Court directed the departments to take appropriate action to check the growth of slums and to create an environment worth for living.

During the last few years, Judicial Activism has opened up a new dimension for the judicial process and has given a new hope to the millions who starve for their livelihood. There is no reason why the Court should not adopt activist approach similar to Court in America, so as to provide remedial amplitude to the citizens of India.

Supreme Court has now realised its proper role in welfare state and it is using its new strategy for the development of a whole new corpus of law for effective and purposeful implementation of Public Interest Litigation. One can simply approach to the Court for the enforcement of fundamental rights by writing a letter or post card to any Judge. That particular letters based on true facts and concept will be converted to writ petition. When Court welcome Public Interest Litigation, its attempt is to endure observance of social and economic programs frame for the benefits of have-nots and the handicapped. Public Interest Litigation has proved a boon for the common men. Public Interest Litigation has set right a number of wrongs committed by an individual or by society. By relaxing the scope of Public Interest Litigation, Court has brought legal aid at the doorsteps of the teeming millions of Indians; which the executive has not been able to do despite a lot of money is being spent on new legal aid schemes operating at the central and state level. Supreme Court's pivotal role in expanding the scope of Public Interest Litigation as a counter balance to the lethargy and inefficiency of the executive is commendable.



The term "PIL" originated in the United Statesin the mid-1980s. Since the nineteenth century, various movements in that country had contributed to public interest law, which was part of the legal aid movement. The first legal aid office was established in New York in 1876. In the 1960s the PIL movement began to receive financial support from the office of Economic Opportunity, This encouraged lawyers and public spirited persons to take up cases of the under-privileged and fight against dangers to environment and public health and exploitation of consumers and the weaker sections.




PIL had begun in India towards the end of 1970s and came into full bloom in the 80s. Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer and Justice PM. Bhagwati, honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of India. They delivered some landmark judgements which opened up new vistas in PIL.




According to Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer, PIL is a process, of obtaining justice for the people, of voicing people's grievances through the legal process. The aim of PIL

is to give to the common people of this country access to the courts to obtain legal redress.




According to Justice Bhagwati "PIL is not in the nature of adversary litigation but it is a challenge and an opportunity to the Government and its officers to make basic human rights meaningful to the deprived and vulnerable sections of the community and to assure them social and economic justice which is the significant tune of our Constitution. The government and its officers must welcome PIL because it would provide them an accession to examine whether the poor and the downtrodden are getting their social and entitlements or whether they are continuing to remain victims of deception and exploitation at the hands of strong and powerful sections of the community... when the court entertains PIL, it does not do so in a cavilling spirit or in a confrontational mood or with a view to tilting at executive authority or seeking to usurp it, but its attempt is only to ensure observance of social and economic rescue programmes, legislative as well as executive, framed for the benefit of the have-nots and the handicapped and to protect them against violation of their basic human rights, which is also the constitutional obligation of the executive. The court is thus merely assisting in the realization of the constitutional objective," (AIR 1984 SC 802)




The new and liberal interpretation of the fundamental rights found in Part III and the Directive Principles of State Policy in Part IV of the Constitution of India. They are drawn from the revolutionary documents like the American Bill of Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Articles 32 and 228 of the Constitution that give power to any citizen to move the

Supreme Court or High Courts wherever there is an infringement of a fundamental right?




Issues relating to the following matters can be taken in to PIL


1. Basic amenities such as roads, water, medicines, electricity, primary school,        primary health centre, bus service, etc,

2. Rehabilitation of displaced persons.

3. Identification and rehabilitation of bonded and child labourers.

4. Illegal detention of arrested persons.

5. Torture of persons in police custody.

6, Custodial deaths.

7, Protection of prisoner's rights.

8. Jail reform.

9. Speedy trials of under trials.

10. Ragging in colleges.

11. Atrocities by police.

12. Atrocities against SCs/STs.

13. Neglect of inmates of government welfare homes,

14. Children in custody.

15. Adoption of children.

18, Corruption charges against public servants.

17. Maintenance of law and order,

18. Payment of minimum wages.

10. Legal aid to the poor.

20. Starvation deaths.

21. Indecent television programmes.

22. Prohibition.

23. Environmental pollution.

24. Unauthorised eviction,

25. Protection of pavement and slum dwellers.

28. Dowry deaths.

27. Implementation of welfare laws.

28. Reform of illegal social customs such as sati, child marriage, devdasi system, etc.

29. Violation of fundamental rights of the weaker sections.


o   There must be a public injury and public wrong caused by the wrongful act or omission of the state or public authority.

o    It is for the enforcement of basic human rights of weaker sections of the community who are downtrodden, ignorant and whose fundamental and constitutional rights have been infringed.

o    It must not be frivolous litigation by persons having vested interests.           


The Supreme Court (SC), through its successive judgements has relaxed the strict rule of 'locus standi' applicable to private litigation.


  • He is a member of the public acting bona fide and having sufficient interest in instituting an action for redressal of public wrong or public injury.
  • He is not a mere busy body or a meddlesome interloper.
  • His action is not motivated by personal gain or any other oblique consideration.


A PIL may be filed like a write petition. However, in the past the SC has treated even letters addressed to the court as PIL. In People’s Democratic union v Union of India, a letter addressed by the petitioner organization seeking a direction against the respondents for ensuring observance of the provisions of famous labour laws in relation to workmen employed in the construction work of projects connected with the Asian games was entertained as a PIL.
The SC has encouraged the filing of PIL for tackling issues related to environment, human rights etc.



The different ways PIL can be filed in the Supreme Court and High Courts are;

1.      Sending letter petitions with relevant facts and documents to the Chief Justice of the concerned court. The matter must be sent by registered post.

2.      By directly filing the PIL in the court through the Free Legal Service Committee of the court.

3.      Directly filing the case with the help of any PIL lawyer.

4.       Filing the case through NGOs or PIL firms.







1. Discuss the legal issue with the affected people thoroughly.

2. Find out whether the matter infringes on the fundamental rights of the people or not. It is also important to specify which fundamental rights have been violated.

3. Help the people to decide whether legal action must be taken in the court to enforce their rights or to prevent the violation of their rights.

4. Write out a petition with all the facts and details, dates, etc,

5. Specify in the petition the type of relief wanted by the people.

8. Get the signatures of all the affected people, if possible.

7, Collect all the available documents, paper clippings, photographs, investigation reports, certificates and affidavits related to the issue and attach them to the main petition as annexure.

8. If possible, consult a socially conscious lawyer or the members of the local legal aid society before sending the petition.

9, Send the registered petition to the Chairman of the High Court Legal Services Committee of the respective High Court or to the Chairman of the Supreme Court Legal Services Committee, New Delhi-110 001.




ü  The character of the Indian Constitution. Unlike Britain, India has a written constitution which through Part III (Fundamental Rights) and Part IV (Directive Principles of State Policy) provides a framework for regulating relations between the state and its citizens and between citizens inter-se.


ü   India has some of the most progressive social legislation to be found anywhere in the world whether it be relating to bonded labor, minimum wages, land ceiling, environmental protection, etc. This has made it easier for the courts to haul up the executive when it is not performing its duties in ensuring the rights of the poor as per the law of the land.


ü   The liberal interpretation of locus standi where any person can apply to the court on behalf of those who are economically or physically unable to come before it has helped. Judges themselves have in some cases initiated suo moto action based on newspaper articles or letters received.


ü  Although social and economic rights given in the Indian Constitution under Part IV are not legally enforceable; courts have creatively read these into fundamental rights thereby making them judicially enforceable. For instance the "right to life" in Article 21 has been expanded to include right to free legal aid, right to live with dignity, right to education, right to work, freedom from torture, bar fetters and hand cuffing in prisons, etc.


ü   Sensitive judges have constantly innovated on the side of the poor. for instance, in the Bandhua Mukti Morcha case in 1983, the Supreme Court put the burden of proof on the respondent stating it would treat every case of forced labor as a case of bonded labor unless proven otherwise by the employer. Similarly in the Asiad workers judgment case, Justice P.N. Bhagwati held that anyone getting less than the minimum wage can approach the Supreme Court directly without going through the labor commissioner and lower courts.


ü   In PIL cases where the petitioner is not in a position to provide all the necessary evidence, either because it is voluminous or because the parties are weak socially or economically, courts have appointed commissions to collect information on facts and present it before the bench.  


PIL represents the first attempt by a developing common law country to break away from legal imperialism perpetuated for centuries. It contests the assumption that the most western the law, the better it must work for economic and social development such law produced in developing states, including India, was the development of under develop men. The shift from legal centralism to legal pluralism was prompted by the disillusionment with formal legal system. In India, however instead of seeking to evolve justice- dispensing mechanism ousted the formal legal system itself through PIL. The change as we have seen, are both substantial and structural. It has radically altered the traditional judicial role so as to enable the court to bring justice within the reach of the common man. Further, it is humbly submitted that PIL is still is in experimental stage. Many deficiencies in handling the kind of litigation are likely to come on the front. But these deficiencies can be removed by innovating better techniques. In essence, the PIL develops a new jurisprudence of the accountability of the state for constitutional and legal violations adversely affecting the interests of the weaker elements in the community. We may end with the hope once expressed by Justice Krishna Iyer, “The judicial activism gets its highest bonus when its orders wipe some tears from some eyes”.






4.      Ahuja - People, Law and Justice: Casebook on Public Interest Litigation, Orient Blackswan, 1997.

5.      V.N Shukla - Constitution of India, Eastern Book Company.

6.      Madhusudan Saharay - Public interest litigation and human rights in India, Premier Pub. Co., 2000


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